11:24 PM EDT, April 24, 2013
NEW YORK —
He isn't the kid from Mystic anymore. He is a New York event. He isn't the fresh-faced Fitch High kid in his T-shirt fishing at Watch Hill, not anymore. His face is on T-shirts nowadays, hawked all around Citi Field, the face of hope for the Mets franchise.
The sports world is nothing if not a study in hyperbole, so it probably should come as no surprise in his first full major league season Matt Harvey already has been compared to Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden. His slider has been compared to Steve Carlton's. His body has been compared to a young Roger Clemens, probably because nobody would dare compare anyone's mind to an older Roger Clemens. Harvey has been compared to Justin Verlander and Curt Schilling. Schilling? He has said on ESPN he'd take Harvey over Stephen Strasburg.
New York has its flavor of the month, maybe even its flavor of the year, and once the jaws of expectations close in the big city those expectations quickly become demands. Until a security guard on the wrong side of the right field fence dropped a slicing home run ball by Matt Kemp back onto the field Wednesday night, Harvey had met every one of those demands this April.
"Matt expects a lot of himself," Mets manager Terry Collins said hours before an RBI single by David Wright with two out in the ninth saved Harvey from his first loss of the season and the Mets went on to win 7-3 over the Dodgers on a Jordany Valdespin grand slam in the 10th. "He's not afraid to deal with it. He's not going to shy away from it. He is prepared as anybody I've been around."
Listening to WFAN on my drive down to New York, couldn't heap enough praise on Harvey, at one point saying Harvey's confidence and poise during interviews with him were matched only by Derek Jeter. Collins did nothing in his conversation with Francesa to dissuade expectations.
"Sandy Koufax was here yesterday and I asked him if he'd seen Harvey," Collins said. "He said, 'I've seen him pitch twice and you've got something unbelievable. I said, 'If you get a chance I'd like you to talk to him.' He said, 'I have nothing to say to this guy. He knows what he's doing.'
"This kid is not conceited. He's just confident. He knows he has the ability and won't let anything get in the way of letting that ability show."
In striking out seven and walking only one, Harvey allowed that immense ability to show again against the Dodgers. With a slider, curve and changeup supplementing his fastball, Harvey, at 24, is a maturing marvel. After walking 26 in 59 1/3 innings last year, his 39 strikeouts and 10 walks over 35 innings is a clear indication of his increasing control. His only 2-0 count on this night, in fact, was followed by that two-run homer Kemp hit with two out in the sixth.
Dating to his last start of 2012, Harvey had a streak of five consecutive appearances in which he had pitched at least seven innings and allowed four or fewer hits. According to Mark Simon of ESPNNewYork.com, only 13 pitchers had done it since 1920. Johan Santana is the only one who reached six. Well, Harvey only gave up four hits, but he didn't make it to the seventh on this night.
Entering the game there were some absolutely stunning numbers to consider, the kind of numbers that make Mets fans jump for joy and baseball fanatics twist themselves into pretzels with mental gymnastics.
Consider this also from Simon: Save a home run by the Twins' Justin Morneau that broke up his no-hit bid on April 13, Harvey hadn't allowed a ball hit to the warning track before Kemp's homer. Until Kemp sliced that ball 335 feet, in fact, Harvey had hit the longest ball of the game, doubling off the left-field fence and scoring the Mets' first run.
Crazy Harvey numbers are bubbling up everywhere. According to Elias, Harvey was the only pitcher in the modern era [since 1900] with more than 100 strikeouts and fewer than 25 runs allowed over his first 14 career starts. He also became the first pitcher in the modern era to win his first four season starts while allowing only 10 hits. Matt Moore of Tampa Bay did match it this week.
He entered the night leading the National League with a 0.93 ERA and a major league leading 0.652 WHIP. Opponents were hitting .108 against him, again best in the majors. Two singles and a fielder's choice would lead to a Dodger run in the first, but Harvey proceeded to retire 10 in a row and 17 of 18 before he walked Adrian Gonzalez and Kemp got him. Harvey threw 90 pitches, the fewest this year, 66 for strikes.
Intense and diligent.
The praise has continued to mount for Harvey. And when he outpitched Strasburg in his last outing, allowed just one run against the Nationals, the floodgates of expectations were officially thrown open. Mets fans chanted "Har-vey's better! Har-vey's better!" at Strasburg. And when Harvey gutted his way out of the seventh inning, his only 20-pitch inning of the season, the entire night came together as a sort of a rite of pitching passage for Harvey.
An error by Daniel Murphy had loaded the bases with no outs. Harvey responded by striking out Kurt Suzuki on a slider. He got Roger Bernadina to pop out on a high, hard fastball. He got Denard Span to ground out. Collins said the way Harvey picked up his teammate spoke volumes about the kind of competitor he is. He called it the mark of a true ace.
Harvey has talked about his dreams as a kid of moving to the big city one day. That day has arrived. Long a major league prospect, the star of expectation has grown from a number two or three starter in the rotation, to an ace. The Mets, going nowhere fast on nights Harvey does not pitch, obviously want to ride the big Connecticut ace as long and loud as they can. Don't you think they'd love for Harvey to be on the mound as the starter of the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field? Heck, Mr. Met would give a few stitches out of his head for that one.
Yet even aces have a hiccup.
His three earned runs allowed over six innings, in his no-decision, qualified as a quality start.
It just wasn't up to Matt Harvey quality.
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